PROTESTERS have called again for a ban on fox hunting in Northern Ireland as they gathered to object to an annual hunt in a Co Down village.
The New Year's Day North Down Hunt in Crawfordsburn was met by around 100 people including members of the Green Party, which coordinated the demonstration, and Sinn Fein.
Signs held aloft in the crowd called for fox hunting to be banned, with one reading, 'It's not sport - it's violent murder'.
However, the New Year's Day event was a drag hunt, in which mounted riders hunt the trail of an artificially laid scent with hounds.
No foxes are harmed during drag hunts.
Ricky Bamford, chairman of the Green Party in Northern Ireland and protest organiser, said: "Despite the rain and cold, over 100 people gathered to peacefully protest against the barbaric practice of hunting and killing foxes for sport. I would like to thank all those who came today and my Green Party colleagues who showed in such numbers today.
"I spoke to a representative of the hunt today and while we clearly had different views on the issue of hunting there were some positive outcomes.
"The Green Party will continue to work towards a ban on fox hunting in Northern Ireland, but we are also happy to engage with those who currently hunt to work towards hunts that do not deliberately or 'accidentally on purpose' result in the killing or maiming of foxes.
"Dialogue as well as legislation is needed to ban fox hunting."
Green Party councillor John Barry said: "There is no place for hunting animals for so-called sport, whether foxes, deer or hares.
"In protesting today we were representing the 80% of people in Northern Ireland who wish to see fox hunting banned.
"Our protest called attention to the need to ban this barbaric practice in Northern Ireland."
Currently Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which has not outlawed fox hunting.
Hunting with dogs is not illegal here, but the League against Cruel Sports has called for the bans in England, Scotland and Wales to be extended here.
However, thousands still take part in hunts across Northern Ireland every year.
Hunting with dogs was banned in Scotland through the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act in 2002 and in England and Wales in 2005 under the Hunting Act.
Last year an Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by the League against Cruel Sports said fewer than one in five people supported fox hunting remaining legal.